Seumas Milne: The First World War ... The Real Lessons of This Savage Imperial Bloodbath





Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor. 
 
In the midst of deepening austerity, David Cameron is desperate to play the national card. Any one will do. He's worked the Queen's jubilee and the Olympics for all they're worth. Now the prime minister wants a "truly national commemoration" of the first world war in the runup to 2014 that will "capture our national spirit … like the diamond jubilee".
 
So £50m has been found to fund a four-year programme of events, visits to the trenches from every school and an ambitious redevelopment of the Imperial War Museum. Ministers have promised there will be no "jingoism", but Cameron says he wants to remember those who "gave their lives for our freedom" and ensure that "the lessons learned live with us for ever".
 
In case there were any doubt about what those lessons might be, the Times has declared that despite the war's unhappy reputation, Britain's cause was "essentially just", a necessary response to aggression by a "xenophobic and anti-democratic" expansionist power (Germany) and that those who fought and died did so to uphold the "principle of the defence of small nations".
 
It surely must be right to commemorate what was by any reckoning a human catastrophe: 16 million died, including almost a million Britons...


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